Plans to reopen later this month
It may be June, but the destruction of Snowmageddon continues to pile up like the mounds of January snow — this time, at the Memorial University Botanical Garden on Mount Scio Road.
“It’d break your heart,” horticulturist Todd Boland said as he pulled some broken limbs away from a rhododendron.
He figures at least half of the garden’s plants sustained some kind of damage due to the significant snowfall amounts this winter, and the January blizzard.
Nursery manager and horticulturist Tim Walsh spoke at length about the extensive damage: many fallen trees, 50 per cent of shrubs damaged, rhododendrons snapped off at the base, winter burn on broadleaf plants, branches torn off dwarf conifers that are unable to regenerate, broken fences and damaged wooden benches.
Walsh said that covers just a small portion of the 100-acre garden that’s designed to showcase exotic plants that aren’t native to the province. Roughly 90 acres of natural forests, native displays and boardwalk trails haven’t yet been assessed.
At the garden on Wednesday, there were piles of tree and bush limbs here and there, trees cut down that had been falling over and new wood on much of the recently-repaired fencing.
“It’s quite the unusual year,” said Walsh.
He said it’s too early to put a dollar figure on the damage because it’s still being assessed, but it’s “significant.”
“It’s certainly not anything that we’ve seen in recent years.”
Walsh has been with the garden since 1989.
“I’ve planted a lot of these plants, and I’ve seen them grow, and mature, and do what we had hoped they would do. And I won’t sugarcoat it to say that I wasn’t disappointed. I was more just saddened by it because it’s all those years of growing that was kind of lost through that natural process.
“At the same time, because it’s a natural process, I can kind of just say, ‘OK, that’s beyond our control, we really couldn’t have done anything differently to prevent that.’ And as a botanical garden, we’ll take this current situation, and look at what we can do with it.
“Maybe there’s some other species now that we can try in the places where we’ve lost some plants, and maybe look at introducing some new varieties that might be able to handle those conditions a little better.”
Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic has meant a decrease to the usual staffing levels the garden would normally see this time of year.
That means much of the cleanup is being done by a small crew. Paired with the extensive damage, the efforts are taking longer this year than usual. They’ve already been intensively cleaning up for the past three to four weeks, said Walsh.
Normally the garden would be open for a month at this point, but Walsh said the goal this year is open mid-to-late June.
Until then, he said, they’re working their way through the beds pruning, fertilizing and planting to ensure it’s a beautiful display again this year for visitors.
“We’re slowly getting there.”
Already, the gardens that have been cleaned up were blooming on Wednesday, and a gardener was busy planting — two signs that while one bad winter can cause destruction, it can’t destroy growth.